Five years after interviewing Nikki Sixx at his studio in Calabasas, near Los Angeles, I was invited to see Sixx: A.M. in their first live performance since 2009 and their only show of 2014. Best of all, it was an intimate shindig for iHeart Radio Live (no relation to Apple products… sorry, couldn’t resist) in Burbank just for fans, music industry people and media to promote the release of their third album, Modern Vintage. A title that could also be used to describe the sartorial style of the evening.
Inside the small venue with the AC on full blast, there is a pre-show going on. While the fashion sense at Hellfest is pretty straightforward metal, here it is much more stylized, often to perfection. Think more Vogue than street style. As in “not a strand of hair out of place” perfect. While Sixx: A.M. may not play glam rock, their audience is certainly glamourous, reinventing the sartorial codes of rock ’n’ roll. And they think high. As in sky-high some heels and shorter-than-necessary skirts that they cannot necessarily carry off. Black and denim are the dominant pieces. Raven hair with burgundy highlights for girls, with matching red, collagen lips, long locks for boys. Think Bettie Page gone metal. Or perhaps what would have been the offspring of Dita Von Teese and ex-hubby Marilyn Manson. It’s a cross between a catwalk and an art exhibit; there are enough tattoos to fill a gallery where wannabe, will-never-be and aging Mötley Crüe fans mingle. Angelenos have the style down to a tee. And some even literally… as in T-shirt, that is.
Rock ’n’ roll T-shirts will never die: Kiss, Fender, Iron Maiden, Slayer – you know, the usual. Axl Rose bandanas are still actually a thing, too, version 2014. I call fans who emulate their favorite rockers’ style “lookabees”. The tall Iggy Pop lookabee is sporting a Bad Boy tank and hat. He’s even got the pout. Another popular look is Jack White. Strangely, no one has the courage — or enough gel and hairspray — to attempt the Nikki Sixx look. No Eighties hair in this venue. Heck no, it’s 2014. Nylon is the new Creem.
On the dot at 7pm — this is live radio, after all — iHeartRadio’s DJ Tray Morgan introduces the band and teases a “special announcement to make shortly before the end of the show.” Which is in 15 minutes. And which I can guess. (No, the other guys from Mötley Crüe won’t be here for an impromptu set.)
Sixx: A.M. kicks off with the live premiere of “Let’s Go”, warming up the audience: “Let’s go to the edge,” chants lead singer James Michael. They follow with new track “Stars”, after which Mr. iHeart DJ joins the band onstage for a short Q&A. While the first two Sixx: A.M. albums had Nikki’s books as templates – The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack (2007) and This Is Gonna Hurt (2011) — Modern Vintage is the band’s first album which was inspired by… music. “We really discovered who’d we become as a band. We went through old Sixties records,” says James Michael, adding that they went through their own record collections, filled with artists like Queen and Wings. They were basically researching the art of songwriting. “Songs were king at the time and albums were not linear,” says Nikki Sixx, and DJ Ashba explains it best: “This is more of a celebration record. This was a wide open canvas and, God, did we paint.”
After they perform another new track, “Gotta Get It Right”, the obvious surprise news is finally announced: Sixx: A.M. will go on a headlining tour for three weeks next April with Apocalyptica – “We just love that band.”. “You guys have only seen half of our dream,” DJ Ashba says.
While I’m pondering what the other half of that dream could be, cue the grand piano. James Michael beings a solo rendition of The Cars’ “Drive”, before he’s joined by the band and the saturated guitar kicks in. Not an easy track to cover as the original is perfection, but Ric Ocasek would approve. The crowd goes wild on the next song. “This is called ‘Life is Beautiful’,” screams James and the vitamin-infused hit gets everyone bouncing — enough to make sure not a strand of hair gets out of place. I’m standing next to a crazed male fan who, between songs, yells out his setlist suggestions. And he seems happy with the next tune, the somber “Before It’s Over,” which the band plays live for the first time, dedicated to someone dear to James Michael, sitting once again at the piano. “I lost a dear, dear friend and my manager of 16 years on Sunday and I wanna sing a song for him.” The rest of the band joins him mid-song with a lengthy guitar solo by DJ Ashba.
That was heartfelt and touching, but please let’s get going again, guys. “We’re gonna do a song from our second record, a record called This is Gonna Hurt.” The title track is a monster sound, crushing under its potency, creating a fracas with each riff. The set finishes with “Rise of the Beautiful People,” the perfect tune for the L.A. crowd and a resurrection for Sixx: A.M. It’s 8pm and time to go home.